Pawing, Digging, Retrieving and Otherwise Engaging Aggressively with a Source/Box
While crushing a box while searching or when making a find – or picking up the box and retrieving it to you — is a training issue, your dog doing so at an ORT will not be grounds for dismissal according to the NASCW ORT Coordinator. That’s why the Certifying Official makes extra hot boxes and has extra neutral boxes from which to draw. Be aware, however, that faults may be assessed at an Official NACSW Trial at the judges’ discretion if the handler has “compromised the search area.” “Compromising the search area” has been defined in the NACSW Standards to include, but not be limited to, contaminating or damaging/destroying boxes or other items in the environment, dropping/leaving food/toy rewards in search areas, and urinating/defecating. So, if your dog is interacting aggressively with the boxes, you need to interrupt that behavior for whatever length of time it takes so that the dog stops thinking that picking up the box is an option and you have replaced it with another more acceptable behavior – i.e., staying at source and waiting for you to deliver the reward. Retrieving the box can happen with operant HAPPY dogs that are just out having a good time, but this behavior usually occurs when handlers wait for that “magic decision” or “indication” BEFORE the dog has stimulus control at the box. A quick dog, that has had sufficient training, “knows” that good things happen at the box, but he does not necessarily understand what he is to do while “waiting” for a handler that delays too long, too soon. Such dogs are more than happy to step in and bring the “predicator of reward” (i.e., the box) to you. Remember, dogs are thinking all the time too how best to get what they want and they know you got what they want – the reward!! :):) Regardless of the “why,” to address this problem, you can manipulate the environment in several ways to make it less likely your dog will retrieve the box: 1) You can weigh the boxes down (but this does add another extraneous odor to your boxes but you can address this if you put bricks in all boxes in addition to the box that has odor so that the dog has to discriminate). You can also use some naturally heavy item as your container – i.e., concrete blocks with a concrete paver as a lid (I have these out in my backyard). I also use boxes made of wood with a hinged top with one hole drilled in the top for scent distribution (there is a metal slider on the top to cover the larger hole when I work more experienced dogs on pinpointing). Wooden boxes are much more transportable than heavy concrete blocks and picking up a heavier wooden box is not as much fun as a lightweight Uline box. I made 15 such boxes early on when teaching K9NW and I still pull them out for dogs that are really insistent on doing this. Similarly, I use those heavy plastic gray electrical boxes which have a lid that can be scewed down because a dog can’t really pick these boxes up…but they sure can slide them all over the floor. 🙁 Some of them come with pre-drilled holes but I found it very difficult to drill the holes myself, so I really only use these boxes for exterior work or for doing disaster training. 2) Manipulate the environment to get the behavior you want by placing the majority of your boxes on top of chairs that the seat of which comes up to your dog’s chest. When boxes are at this level, it is less likely that the dog can raise its paw to dig or to grab the hide to run off with it. (You can also work the dog for a while on “vertical” hides (i.e., drawers or those wonderful Randy Hare boxes) but I have found that dogs that like to self-reward on boxes still need to learn “proper care” of the boxes even if started on vertical hides which is why I more often select boxes on chairs as my preferred training tool when having issues with digging etc). 3) Finally, you need to do your very best to get to source as quickly as possible to reward. The dog needs to learn that it is the find that brings the reward and source location is where the reward will be delivered. If dog beats you there, then quietly take the box from the dog, bring it back to the hide location and reward at source. If your reward delivery is proper, then you will begin to educate the dog WHERE reward delivery occurs. And if you make the “reward event” big enough and important enough to the dog, then staying at source and waiting for what the dogs knows will be something the dog really wants will occur all on its own. Natural stimulus control.
So, it is very possible to address a dog’s aggressive responses to the boxes….but a change in behaviors that are self rewarding will not happen overnight. And, that is why it is best to avoid this happening at the start of training. Remember, dog training is all about conditioning in the right expectations in a dog and, if the dog has selected an incorrect expectation, then you need to carefully change his expectation to the one you want.